Thursday, May 22, 2008

Glamour, Glitz & Gold -- Planning Your Trip to Monaco

Monaco, a tiny principality that sits atop a steep, rocky coastline overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, enjoys sunshine 300 days a year with mild winters and moderate summer temperatures. Located between the Mediterranean Sea and the French Alps, France lies to the west and Italy to the east.

Well-known as a playground of the rich and famous, Monaco is also a perfect getaway when planning a trip to either the French or Italian Rivera’s. Whether driving or flying, getting to Monaco is easy. From the International Airport in Nice, you can even take a 7-½ minute helicopter ride to Monaco via Heli Air Monaco or Monicair. The price of your ticket includes free transport from the heliport to anywhere you want to go in Monaco and free pickup on your return. Having a car in Monaco isn’t really necessary, as you can walk to most districts within the city within twenty to thirty minutes at most, especially if you’re going to Monaco for business and not planning on doing much sight-seeing outside of the city.

The first thing you'll notice when you arrive are the cars! It's not uncommon to see a Rolls Royce double-parked next to a shiny Ferrari which is sitting in front of a Porsche near the casino, and the sheer number of expensive sports cars is amazing.

The next thing you'll notice is how clean it is. You'll seldom even see litter on the streets. And finally, you'll be delighted by the more than 100 statues, fountains and sculptures that are found throughout all five districts of Monaco. As you wander around you'll soon discover the narrow, winding medieval alleyways, stone arches and "secret" passageways, fragrant flowers and pastel-painted buildings with red tiled roofs so characteristic of the French Riviera.

Nicknamed "the Rock" by the locals, there are many things to see and do in Monaco, and thanks to the generosity and foresight of Prince Rainier III, the former Prince of Monaco, many of them are free. About the size of Central Park in New York City, Monaco is three miles long and one-half mile wide. Although it’s the second smallest country in the world (Vatican City is the smallest), Monaco nonetheless offers something for everyone.

During the tourist season, you’ll find fairs, festivals, rallies or other celebrations scheduled almost every day. Off-season has its charms as well, with less to do, but also less traffic, fewer tourists and the chance to really explore all that Monaco has to offer.

Helpful Information:

Currency: The European Euro

Identification and Length of Stay: To enter Monaco, you need the same identification used for gaining entry to France (passport, travel or identity documents), and you can stay for up to 90 days without a visa.

Principal Language: French, although many natives still speak the ancient Monegasque. Italian and English are also commonly spoken.

Nearest Airport: International Cote d’Azur Nice is approximately 15 miles away.

Transportation from Airport: Bus, train, helicopter, private limousine, taxi, rental car or motorcycle.

Basic Geography:

Monaco is divided into five districts.

1. The Ville on the Rock, which includes the Prince’s Palace, the gardens, the Ramparts, the Cathedral and the Oceanographic Museum.

2. The Condamine, which is the second oldest area in Monaco. It’s name dates back to the Middle Ages and refers to the area of cultivatable land at the foot of a village or castle.

3. Monte Carlo, which was built in 1866 and named in honor of Prince Charles III. Monte Carlo is famous for its casino, luxury hotels and unique boutiques.

4. Fontvieille is the newest area of Monaco, and is actually "land" that has been reclaimed from the sea. The manmade harbor has hotels, shopping, restaurants, the stadium and sports complex and is a pollution free industrial area as well.

5. Moneghetti, which is a "must-see" district. It features the Révoires and the Exotic Gardens. Underneath the gardens is a prehistoric cave.

Pets: Pets are often allowed in hotels and restaurants, but it’s a good idea to check first.

There are currently 7 public elevators that will make it easier for you to go up and down Monaco's steep elevations and public areas.

Where to Stay:

Hotels and accommodations in Monaco range from the very inexpensive to the luxurious. Each year, more than 260,000 tourists come here for business and pleasure.

Monaco’s flagship hotel is still the “Hotel de Paris” with its almost unbelievable luxury and unparalleled attention to your every wish.

However, if spending upwards of $500 a night during high season isn’t in your budget, try the Hermitage, (which offers old-world charm and elegance), or the more modern Mirabeau, which is near the business center and close to night life attractions as well.

If you prefer being near the Med, the Monte Carlo Beach Hotel provides all the amenities and breathtaking views.

A wonderful family hotel that even offers onsite babysitting is the Tulip Inn Monaco Terminus.

The Monte Carlo Grand Hotel is an imposing building, with seven polygonal terraces that overlook the Med or the Grand Prix race course. The hotel offers 30 suites, several restaurants, a rooftop swimming pool and, of course, a shopping arcade.

Although 750 hotel rooms have been recently added in Monaco, (increasing the previous number by one-third), if you’re hoping to get a room for next year’s Grand Prix, you may still be out of luck! Rooms for that event are usually booked a year in advance, and sometimes more.)

Where to Eat:

Arguably the finest restaurant in Monaco is the Louis XV. (It has a 3-star rating in the Michelin Guide). Elegantly formal, the restaurant is colored in gold – from the furnishings and architectural details all the way down to the plates and flatware. And the service is as superb as the food.

One of the “in” places to be “seen” is the Café de Paris. Sit back, have a drink and while you’re waiting for your lunch to arrive, enjoy the totally French atmosphere. Locals frequent the café as often as tourists, and if you are fluent at all in French, you might hear the latest gossip about one of the Royal family, or speculation about whom the huge white yachts lined up in the harbor belong to.

Visit the bar in the Hotel de Paris across the street and enjoy an aperitif in the late afternoon or early evening, and drink in the atmosphere. Located on the Golden Square of the Place du Casino, it is lavishly decorated in muted tones of gold, rose and maroon.

What to See:

The Monte-Carlo Casino: What would a visit to Monaco be without a stop in the famous district of Monte Carlo and its casino? Built in 1878 by Charles Garnier, it was Europe’s first gambling establishment. The atrium is paved in marble and is surrounded by 28 Ionic columns made from onyx. The casino (which charges a fee to enter and has a dress code of jacket and tie for men) also requires identification, so take your passport. Beyond the main salons is a private gaming room for high rollers.

The Naval Museum: The museum is like a three dimensional encyclopedia of naval history, dating from the Romans up to modern day. With one of the most diverse collections in the world, you can find over 250 models and other unique objects here.

Zoological Terraces: Opened by HRH Prince Rainier III in 1954, the zoo was built on the south face of the Rock of Monaco and overlooks the Port of Fontvieille. The collection of 250 animals (more than 50 different species) includes a Black Panther, White Tiger, Hippopotamus, Lemurs and a large variety of exotic birds. The atmosphere is peaceful and the views are as spectacular as the animals.

Princess Grace Rose Garden: Here you'll find the peace and serenity that Princess Grace herself was known for. There are over 4,000 rose bushes here.

The Exotic Garden: This garden, daringly landscaped against the rocky face of the cliff, features several thousand succulent plants, flowers and cacti from all over the world.
60 meters down from the garden accessible by a long stairway, is the Observatory cave. The stalactites and stalagmites and natural limestone sculptures are a wonder in themselves. Close by, the Museum of Prehistoric Antiquity not only traces the history of mankind, but features local archaeological finds as well.

The Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium: This is another must-see, housing a permanent display of Jacques Coustou and one of the finest aquariums in the world. Or take the Seabus, a glass-bottomed submarine that gives passengers a birds-eye view of the Med.

You might come to Monaco for the gold, the glamour or the glitz, but you'll fall in love with the little kingdom by the sea.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Matter of Winning and Losing: Tips on Playing Blackjack

Today, blackjack seems to be one of the most popular card games. This is because playing blackjack is so easy to learn and play. Unlike poker, blackjack does not have any combinations to remember.

In blackjack, the object of the game is to get the sum of the two cards close to 21. When a person gets cards that are over 21, he or she loses the game.

Normally, a player receives two cards. After the players see their cards, they have to decide whether they would hit or stand. When a person says “stand,” this means the player thinks he or she is closer to 21 already. When a player says “hit,” this means that he or she still needs additional cards just to get close to 21.

Players can draw as many cards as they want until they feel they are close to 21 already. A player who is nearer to 21 wins.

However, there are people who have devised some tips and strategies to get an edge over the other players. There are times that these tips really can help some people win.

Here’s a list of some tips that players may choose to use them so as to win the game.

1. If a player gets 17 or higher, it is always better to stand, and if the player has any number from 13 to 16 and the dealer’s card is 6 or lower, it would be better to stand. But if the dealer has 7 or more, it would be better for a player to hit.

The theory here is that, if the dealer is showing a card of six or lower, the dealer may take a card, assuming that the dealer’s card facing down is a ten. The players, then, assume that the dealer is banking on a bust hand, so the other players have the tendency to maintain a lower card number.

The rule of thumb: players should always assume that the dealer’s down cards is 10.

2. If a player has aces or 8’s, it would be better to split them regardless of the dealer’s showing card.

3. A player should remember not to split 10’s. Chances are, they might end up getting busted.

4. If the dealer is showing 4, 5, or 6, it would be better for a player to stand on hard 12, or hit hard if the dealer is showing 2, 3, 7, or higher.

5. In order to win, players should always remember not to split fours, face cards, and fives.

Indeed, gambling is a game of chance, but with keen observation, winning is possible.